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Common Questions: Construction Workers and Crystalline Silica Exposure

Construction workers

Silica exposure is a real threat for all workers in industrial occupations, but it is especially common among construction workers.

If you work in construction, you probably have some questions.

At The Law Office of George P. Escobedo & Associates, PLLC, we hope we can answer some of them.

Below are some of OSHA’s most frequently asked questions about crystalline silica exposure:

What is Crystalline Silica?

Also referred to as “quartz,” crystalline silica is part of the earth’s crust that enters the air when stirred. Quartz is also a naturally occurring component of sand and granite.

What is Silicosis?

When someone breathes crystalline silica particles into their lungs, they can develop a lung disease known as silicosis. Silica dust irritates the lungs, which causes them to produce scar tissue. Eventually, the scarring builds up and reduces the lungs’ ability to extract oxygen from the air. Because silicosis is incurable, prevention is particularly important.

What Are the Symptoms of Silicosis?

Silicosis unfolds in multiple stages. In its early stages, the disease may go unnoticed entirely. With continued exposure, however, many patients notice symptoms while exercising. In addition to the symptoms we explore in our silicosis blog, the disease can cause bluish skin around the lips or earlobes and make victims more susceptible to infectious lung diseases like tuberculosis.

After short periods of exposure, workers can develop acute silicosis, but most patients are diagnosed with chronic silicosis after 10 or more years of low-level exposure.

In severe cases, silicosis can lead to respiratory failure and death.

Where Does Exposure Take Place?

For construction workers, the most severe exposure to quartz occurs during sandblasting.

Other activities that can stir-up silica particles include:

  • Jack hammering
  • Rock/well drilling
  • Concrete mixing
  • Concrete drilling
  • Brick and concrete block cutting and sawing
  • Tunneling operations
  • Furnace repair or replacement
  • Settling, laying, and repair of railroad tracks

How Can I Limit My Exposure to Crystalline Silica?

If you work in the construction industry, your employer has a responsibility to protect you from crystalline silica exposure. You should be provided with water sprays, ventilation devices, and containment structures. These are called “engineering tools,” and you should always use them when they are available. Your employer may also choose to complete jobs with less hazardous materials.

If your employer offers air monitoring or training programs, you should participate for your own knowledge and safety.

Even if training is not offered, always be aware of which jobs might expose you to crystalline silica. Also, avoid tobacco products, as smoking can add to the adverse effects of quartz exposure.

Never eat, drink, or apply cosmetics in areas with silica dust, and, if you’ve been in a dusty area, be sure to wash your hands and face before doing any of these activities.

Whenever possible, wear a respirator. Type CE positive pressure abrasive blasting respirators are appropriate for sandblasting, and tightly fitting respirators may require you to shave a beard or mustache.

If you are able, wear washable or disposable clothes to work, and shower and change clothes before leaving the worksite.

Taking all these precautions will reduce your exposure to quartz and mitigate your risk of developing silicosis.

How Can I Keep Myself Safe?

In the event that your employer fails to provide you with engineering tools, respirators, or other safety equipment, you can refuse to work.

A workers’ comp attorney may be able to protect you from retaliation and disciplinary action, and no job is worth your life.

If you need help defending your rights, or pursing justice after a silicosis diagnosis, contact The Law Office of George P. Escobedo & Associates, PLLC.

We offer free consultations and are available 24/7 at (210) 807-3178 and online.

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